Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Kibworth Harcourt, Leicestershire

Tradition and change

During my recent stay in Leicestershire a friend I’d visited gave me directions from his house back towards the county town. “And keep an eye on your mirror as you go through Kibworth Harcourt. There’s a house there that you'll like,” he instructed me, tantalizingly. What I saw when I got there had me stopping and reaching for the camera.

The Old House, it’s called, and it’s a lovely house of 1678. Its form – hipped roof and dormer windows, symmetrical front, central doorway with classical porch, quoins, pediment, double-pile layout (two rooms deep) – is one of the quintessential English building types, a kind of house that proved enduring, from its beginnings in the mid-17th century well into the Georgian era. In the world of grand country houses, this kind of design stretches back to buildings like Coleshill House, Berkshire, built in around 1650 to designs by Sir Roger Pratt for the architect’s cousin, Sir George Pratt. Coleshill (which was destroyed in a fire in 1952) was seriously large, with 17 windows on its entrance front. It was much admired and by the end of the century, lesser gentry, especially in southern England and the counties around London, were building smaller versions for themselves.

The Old House was probably built for a local gentleman, William Parker, who died in 1699 – a Parker coat of arms forms part of the decoration. Whoever designed it lavished much care on it – details such as the curvy little pediment and the carefully formed window surrounds show a painstaking hand. And the fact that the house was built in 1678 is interesting too – as the listing text for the building points out, this is quite early for this kind of classical house in the Midlands – most such houses in Leicestershire date from the 18th century. The designer must have had an eye on more advanced architectural fashions in southeast England, where houses like this were more common.

So although this house looks typically English, a representative of the order and elegance of its period, it would not have seemed that way to contemporaries. As course upon course of bricks was laid (and bricks themselves were unusual in this area in 1678), the neighbours would have been shocked at the difference from the traditional stone or timber-framed houses – asymmetrical, low-slung, with small windows and often thatched roofs – of the area. Architecture was changing, before their eyes.


bazza said...

I wonder if the house was originally built on a corner as it appears now? It's a delightful property but would be enhanced set in some green space.
Although over 300 years old it looks like it could stand for another 500 years!
Click here for Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Anonymous said...

Very sweet. Like a mini-Tredegar House.

Thud said...

A gem.

Stephen Barker said...

In answer to Bazza's question the main road through the village ran past the front door until a by-pass was built by the turnpike trust in the late Eighteenth Century. This was to avoid several sharp bends and a narrow street, which were a problem for the coaching traffic passing through the village. Much of the garden attached to the house at the rear has been developed for housing.

Locally the house is also known as 'General Jack's House' after General Jack who lived there in the first half of the Twentieth Century. His wife who was much younger was the last women who followed the local hunt riding side saddle.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Stephen: Thank you very much for filling in those details.

ian said...

Genral Jack's house used to be the subject of fond rumour of the local kids back in the 60's and 70's... as being haunted! It was indeed a dark sinister looking place then, when I lived at Beauchamp (1965-1972).

Off topic, property developers tore down the house where I lived... a 3 storey Victorian house, 14 Smeeton Lane. Smeeton "road" now leads to yet another characterless soulless estate, where once lay green fields and a pond. Happy days

Philip Wilkinson said...

My apologies to the reader who asked whether this building is privately owned or a public building. Your comment was deleted in error. As far as I know it's in private hands.

Unknown said...

I remember General Jack shooting his 12 bore at us when scrumping apples once.
He was as mad as a hatter!

Anonymous said...

I remember Mrs. Jack out hunting with the Fernie. I used to hunt with the Fernie 1970 - 1977. She looked so elegant in her dark habit on her bay horse. She was a fearless rider considering she rode sidesaddle.

lalaland said...

Happy to have stumbled across this piece. I’m General Jack’s granddaughter,
As kids we were petrified of the Old House. Many people wouldn’t spend the night there, we only did when forced but always ended up in parent’s room!
I know a stage coach crashed nearby. And I heard a story of a young nursemaid who carried an infant down the dark oak stairs only to lose her balance and fall, killing the baby. Legend has it you can still hear the bounce of the baby and the cries of the nurse!
However, I’ve been in since granny lived there and there’s a wonderful beauty to it now.